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Faith Development Friday

Faith Development Friday
Fri Sep 20
An AWESOME evening of learning, spiritual growth, and community


Please RSVP to
We need to know how much pizza to order and booklets to print!

6:15p Pizza & Salad Community Dinner
7:00p - 8:30p Programs

Faith Like a River -- Final Session
Led by Rev. Meredith Garmon.
Join the exploration of what Unitarian Universalism is! Who are we? What is our story?

In this last session, we'll explore our how we have spread "the good UU news." We'll learn about individuals and groups that carried the good news of Unitarianism, Universalism, and Unitarian Universalism to new populations; explore Unitarian Universalist "evangelism"; and reflect on how to continue to engage our faith's history to bring Unitarian Universalism to future generations.

If you have a chance to look at the stories and hand-outs beforehand, you may find that helpful.

ZOOM from home. At 7:00, click this link: to join the "Faith Like a River" class from home.

Family Journey Groups
Parents discuss the monthly theme, COVENANT, while children meet separately for related activities. (Adults without children are also welcome to join the parents' group.)

The "COVENANT" issue of On the Journey is HERE.

Social Gathering
Adults may continue their mealtime conversations and spend some unstructured time together with fellow CUUC-ers.

After the programs: Sharing coffee and further chat.

From the Minister, Thu Sep 19

Dear Ones,

In 2011-12, our congregation -- then CUC (Community Unitarian Church) -- began a search for a next minister. A search committee was selected, and one of its early orders of business was guiding a process of drafting a "Congregational Record" that would tell prospective ministers what sort of congregation CUC was. The final document is about 20 pages long.

By late 2012, our CUC Congregational Record was complete. I read it, expressed my interest in serving the congregation thus described, . . . and the rest is history.

In 2012, asked, "To what degree does the congregation possess a dominant theology?" here's what we said:
The congregation can best be described as non-theistic. Humanism and Buddhism are as important as Christianity and Judaism in shaping our religious/spiritual beliefs and practices, which also honor family and community rituals and traditions. Most of us believe in the interdependence and interconnectedness of all things and that people live on only in memory and accomplishments. Very few of us were raised as UUs; our most common prior religious affiliations include Roman Catholic, Protestant and Jewish.
Our Congregational Record noted that New York life can be fast-faced, that our members' lives were "very active with extensive obligations and opportunities," and added:
This is all the more reason we come to CUC, for a time of pause, reflection and friendship.
The Record stresses community:
This sense of community - cohesive, sustaining, and enduring - is one of our primary strengths and values, and as important to any description of our congregation as demographics and statistics. CUC is "our" congregation. We take pride in our century long history, and we even take pride in the fact that the community has successfully navigated periods of strife and disruption.
We described the role of Sunday morning worship this way:
The most important reason most congregants cite for attending CUC is Sunday "worship services." We value Sunday services because they provide intellectually stimulating and challenging sermons, celebrate our common values, and offer an opportunity for an uplifting emotional experience that includes personal reflection and meditation. The sermon is the most significant element of the worship service for us. Music, including our regular pianist, our choir and guest performers, is also an essential and integral part of our worship experience.
The Record describes many, many other aspects of our congregation. But these are the parts that the Committee on Ministry and I -- and Sabbatical Minister Rev. Kimberly Debus -- would like to update and substantially flesh out. Who are we now? Why do we come to CUUC? As we head into the 2020s, what are the major and the minor theological and spiritual orientations in our congregation today? About which religious questions do we want to know, experience, and explore more -- and to which questions are we pretty satisfied with the answers we've got?

Many of us were drawn to the "pause, reflection, and friendship" -- and to community as "our primary strength and value." We like worship to "provide intellectually stimulating and challenging sermons, celebrate our common values, and offer an opportunity for an uplifting emotional experience." I expect that that's still true, but can we dig a bit deeper? Can we look hard at such questions as:
  • What do you imagine spiritual growth and faith development might look like for you?
  • What kind of healing might congregational life afford you?
  • As a spiritual seeker, what can you say about what you are seeking?
  • What are you yearning to do more of to develop peace and wisdom?
With questions like these, answers must necessarily be fuzzy and bit vague. We cannot provide much detail about where we're headed until we get there. Still, let us turn these questions over and see what we might learn about ourselves and one other.

Yours in faith,

The Liberal Pulpit

Find videos of many past services at our Youtube channel: HERE

This week, a new video went up from the Sep 15 service:
  • Invocation, Prayer, and Sermon: "Climate Strike!"
This video is below. You can also find it at our Youtube channel, along with many others.

The print version of the sermon, slightly revised, was divided into four parts and posted at The Liberal Pulpit:

Sun Sep 15: "Climate Strike!"

Practice of the Week: Relax /When you get stressed or upset, your body tenses up to fight, flee, or freeze. That's Mother Nature's way, and its short-term benefits kept our ancestors alive to pass on their genes. But today — when people can live seventy or eighty years or more, and when quality of life (not mere survival) is a priority — we pay a high, long-term price for daily tension. READ MORE.
Your Moment of Zen: Liberation /In #111, Woodpecker asked, "What does it mean to cross to the other shore?" I commented then that Woodpecker should know better than to ask such questions, but Raven answered, "Flowers crowd the cliffs." Nevertheless,  in #112, Woodpecker asked, "What is the Way?"

Unable to grasp the many kind explanations Raven has already given, Woodpecker now asks yet another variation on the same question. Raven, whose compassion knows no bounds, patiently explains.

Helping Raven arrange the flowers before a meeting, Woodpecker asked, "What's liberation?"
Raven said, "Another couple of daffodils on this side, I think."
Woodpecker said "You're not answering my question."
Raven said, "Daffodils."
The orange five-ball, rolling across the green felt,
Its vector determined by
angle and magnitude of the force that acted upon it:
So utterly free, so totally liberated.
I, watching, cue stick in hand:
Another matter.
Case by Robert Aitken; introduction and verse by Meredith Garmon
Zen at CUUC News


Music: Sun Sep 22

In recognition of this week’s Climate Strike, Sunday morning’s music is provided by CUUC parishioners and Choir Pianist Georgianna Pappas, who is subbing for Music Director Adam Kent. Read on for programming details.

Centering Music: Georgianna Pappas, piano
Toccata in E Minor
                                                            J. S. Bach

Opening Music: Kim Force, Christian Force, Liz Laite, and Georgianna Pappas, vocals
Psalm 23
                                    Arranged by Bobby McFerrin

Allemande from French Suite No. 6 in E Major
                                                            J. S. Bach

“Where Do I Go?”
                                    Music by Galt MacDermott
                                    Words by James Rado and Gerome Ragni


This Week in Religious Education: Sep 17-23

September 17-23, 2019

We had a wonderful start to RE last Sunday!  Most of the RE volunteers were on hand for the first day of classes and youth group.  Many parents visited classes during coffee hour to meet teachers and youth advisors, to hear about plans for the year. 

Children and youth made name tags.  These will be kept on the felt strips on the end of the coat rack, next to the carousel with adult name tags.  We ask everyone to wear their name tags so we can greet each other by name. 

NEW: All adults have the opportunity to serve as assistants in RE classes this year.  No preparation required, just spend an hour with our amazing children and youth while you fulfill our Safe Congregation practice of having two adults with our young people at all times.  See below for the class that needs you this Sunday and e-mail me to volunteer ( Soon there will be a list of all available dates. 

FRIDAY, September 20th
Rev. Garmon and several CUUC members are participating in the Climate Strike.  Watch the newsletter for information about when and where to gather. 

Faith Development Fridays begin this week at 6:15pm with community dinner.  RSVP by e-mailing so we know how much pizza and salad to order.  Groups meet 7:00-8:30pm.  The September theme is Covenant (click here for the packet)
  • 8th-12th Grade Youth Group: Cindy Tillman, Daniel Tillman, Jason Stoff and Imelda Cruz Avellan are meeting with youth to discuss opportunities this year and a group covenant, as well as the Climate Strike.  Then they'll play games so bring your favorite board game to share!
  • Children's Journey Group: I am leading with Diane Keller. We will discuss this month's topic of Covenant, play games, and then wind down for the evening.  Bring your favorite board game to share!
  • Adult Journey Group: Alex Sehdeva leads the adult group as they explore the monthly theme.
  • We are looking for leaders for the 6th-8th grade group; e-mail me to join the team.
SUNDAY, September 22nd
Classes meet again this Sunday.  We will all begin in the sanctuary at 10:00am.  Following the child dedication, we will leave for classes, which meet until 11:30am.  Children 3rd grade and younger must be picked up in the classroom.  Those 4th grade and older will be dismissed to head to coffee hour at 11:30am. 
  • Childcare with Diane Keller and Hans Elsevier.
  • PreK-1st Grade World of New Friends: Laura Goodspeed is leading the lesson about Unitarian Universalism as a starting point for learning about other religions. Donna Vought is the assistant. 
  • 2nd-3rd Grade Passport to Spirituality: Norm Handelman is leading the lesson about Unitarian Universalism as the children start at home before they launch into a year of 'travels.' We need an assistant/second adult for this class. No preparation required, just enjoy an hour with the children. E-mail me to volunteer (
  • 4th-5th Grade Bibleodeon: Suzanne Cacchione and Christine Major are introducing the Bible as the class begins to learn stories from Hebrew and Christian scriptures. 
  • 6th-7th Grade World Religions and Neighboring Faiths: Nicole Turygin and Muhammad Loutfy are leading discussion about Unitarian Universalism as the youth begin a year of learning about many religions and spiritual practices.
  • 8th-9th Grade Coming of Age: Denice Tomlinson and Alex Sehdeva are leading a discussion about spirituality as the youth begin a year of exploring their spiritual journey. They will also discuss the question posed by the Committee on Ministry about what they need in faith community. 
  • Youth Group does not meet Sunday since they are meeting Friday evening. 
On your way home from worship, RE classes, journey groups and committee meetings, I encourage you to share thoughts around these three questions:
  1. What did I learn about Unitarian Universalism?
  2. What did I learn about the way Unitarian Universalists think and see the world?
  3. What did I learn about the way we act and behave as Unitarian Universalists, as we are in relationship with each other?
I look forward to seeing you!


From the Minister, Fri Sep 13

Dear Ones,

Prayer for the climate won't lower the CO2 or other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere -- except, perhaps, indirectly. Prayer is the activity by which we orient our intentions. Prayer for the climate is an exercise by which we remind ourselves that our planet matters to us, that the humans and other animals threatened and immiserated by climatic shifts matter to us, that the well-being of future generations matters to us. If we begin with, and return often to, re-orienting our intentions toward mitigating climate change, we become more likely to participate in actions to realize our hopes.

Therefore, let us pray.

These words of prayer are from Interfaith Power and Light:
We Hold the Earth.
We hold brothers and sisters who suffer from storms and droughts intensified by climate change.
We hold all species that suffer.
We hold world leaders delegated to make decisions for life.
We pray that the web of life may be mended through courageous actions to limit carbon emissions.
We pray for right actions for adaptation and mitigation to help our already suffering earth community.
We pray that love and wisdom might inspire my actions and our actions as communities so that we may, with integrity, look into the eyes of brothers and sisters and all beings and truthfully say, we are doing our part to care for them and the future of the children.
May love transform us and our world with new steps toward life.

Yours in faith,

The Liberal Pulpit

Find videos of many past services at our Youtube channel: HERE

This week, new videos went up from the Sep 8 service:
  • Installation of DLREFD Tracy Breneman (5:16)
  • The Welcome, Invocation, Prayer, and Reflection of our Walter Celebration Ingathering Service (16:02)
These videos are below. You can also find them at our Youtube channel, along with many others.

Installation of DLREFD Tracy Breneman. (Don't know what DLREFD stands for? The video explains).

Welcome, Invocation, Prayer, and Reflection of our Walter Celebration Ingathering Service, Sep 8:

Practice of the Week: Work with Your Biggest Problem First /You don't need to overcome your biggest problems overnight, nor should you defer them to another time. Pay attention right now to what bothers you the most about yourself in your relationships to others and trust that simply by paying attention, little by little you will see what you need to do. READ MORE.
Your Moment of Zen: Hide Yourself
"Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, 'Teacher, order your disciples to stop.'
He answered, 'I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.'" (Luke 19:39-40)
The stones are shouting in any case. You pour out from everything in the universe, as the whole universe pours out from you. Nothing can be hidden.

One evening Wolverine appeared and said, "I've been thinking about hiding myself and fasting."
Raven kicked a twig at Wolverine and said, "Hide yourself in that."
Wolverine stepped behind Black Bear and said, "I'm hidden."
Raven said, "Piffle. You don't even dream of my meaning."
Wolverine was silent.
Woodpecker spoke up and said, "What is your meaning?"
Raven said, "Good question, Wolverine."
We named our car Blue,
and pronouned her
as one does to recognize a personality,
part intrinsic, part projection,
as personalities are.

We wondered at the borders.
When the CD player stopped working,
Was that Blue? Or just Blue's?
"Where does a personality stop?"
I asked my spouse,
after I'd slid in a CD to no effect.
She turned on the left blinker, slowed for a turn,
and said to the oncoming traffic,
"Nowhere to hide."
Case by Robert Aitken; introduction and verse by Meredith Garmon
Zen at CUUC News


Work with Your Biggest Problem First

Practice of the Week
Work with Your Biggest Problem First

Category: Slogans to Live By: Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these maxims, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.

Adapted from Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion, "Work with Your Biggest Problem First."

What is your biggest problem -- that is, the thing that bothers you the most about yourself in your relationships to others? Just pay attention to it. The light of attention will gradually guide you to the corrective.

Decompensation -- originally a medical term for "the inability of a diseased heart to compensate for its defect;" more broadly, "a loss of ability to maintain normal or appropriate psychological defenses, sometimes resulting in depression, anxiety, or delusions" -- affects us all. We all have our own preferred tendency for decompensation -- which is to say, each one of us is given our own personal gift of craziness. Some get angry, some depressed, some anxious. Some are meddlesome, some lazy, some hyperactive, some distractible.

One of the insights of mind training (and it comes as a great relief) is that there is no normal. We are all abnormal, each in our own delightful way. The trick is, first, to accept this, and next, to have some idea of the most important ways in which you are abnormal.

Let's say it's anger. You anger easily, and when you are angry you are miserable, and you inevitably say and do stupid things for which you later feel remorse and shame -- and you've been this way all of your life. Very well, now you are aware of your personal gift, your treasure. Shunryu Suzuki had a saying:
"For a Zen student, a weed is a treasure."
Rather than seeing your problem with anger as a personal defect to be hidden or overcome, you see this weed as a treasure. You don't resolve to work on other things and save this most difficult one for later. You resolve to pay attention to it now and keep on paying attention until, through your continued attention over time, things begin to change.

Later, something else will be your biggest problem. It's always something. Attend to whatever is biggest right now.

You don't need to overcome your biggest problems overnight, nor should you defer them to another time. Pay attention right now to what bothers you the most about yourself in your relationships to others and trust that simply by paying attention, little by little you will see what you need to do.

Adapted from Judith Lief, "Work with the Greatest Defilement First."

This is a great slogan for procrastinators. It is all about looking into those things we avoid, that we put off, that we somehow never end up dealing with. In particular it is about defilements. But what are defilements?

Defilements refer to patterns of thought, habits, and emotions that sap our energy and keep us from thriving. Defilements prevent us from awakening our wisdom or compassion. They pollute what is by nature pure, and block our instinct to grow and develop. They are powerful inner obstacles. Of course we may have outer obstacles, as well, but the idea is to start with what is close at hand, something we could actually have some influence over.

On a mundane level, you may notice that some things always seem to end up at the bottom of your to-do list, and just stay there. Sometimes they migrate to a new improved to-do list, but once again they end up on the bottom. With this slogan, you remind yourself to shake this pattern up and to go straight to the most difficult task. Although we may have a variety of things to do, it is pretty easy to figure out what that particular task might be. We can feel the quality of avoidance in our bodies.

At a deeper level, this slogan challenges us to analyze what really sets us back. Persistent self-analysis is necessary to expose our core obstacles and get to the root of what holds us down. It challenges to dig deeply enough to uncover our greatest defilements. And having done so, we need to stick with that defilement and keep working on it until we are free of it.

This slogan also points to an on-the-spot way of working with our situation in which we do not put anything off, but we deal with whatever defilement arises simply and directly. That is, in cooking up compassion, nothing is moved to the back burner.


What patterns of thought or habit do you have that block your development of wisdom and insight? What is your most consistent and frequent roadblock? Take some time to reflect on this and on how you might begin to work with it.

* * *


Music: Sun Sep 15

New York City native Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) became the first professor of music in the history of Columbia University. He celebrated the natural world in much of his piano music, and several works from his Sea Pieces and Fireside Tales are included this morning in recognition of our growing consciousness of climate-change issues. MacDowell was fond of providing short original verses to preface his piano music, which are reprinted below. The CUUC Choir is also on hand with two beloved classics. Read on for programming details.

Centering Music: Adam Kent, piano
From Sea Pieces, Op. 55
            “To the Sea”
Ocean thou mighty monster
            “From a Wandering Iceberg”
An errant princess of the north,
A virgin, snowy white,
Sails adown the summer seas
To realms of burning light.
The stars are but the cherubs
That sing about the throne
Of gray old Ocean’s spouse,
Fair Moon’s pale majesty.
A merry song, a chorus brave,
And yet a sigh regret
For roses sweet, in woodland lanes---
Ah, love can ne’er forget!
                                                Edward MacDowell

Anthem: The CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied by Georgianna Pappas
           American Folk Song/arr. by Brad Printz

From Fireside Tales, Op. 61
        “From a German Forest”

“Turn, Turn, Turn”
        adapted by Pete Seeger/arr. by Roger Emerson


Religious Exploration: Sun Sep 15

Religious Exploration (RE) Classes and Youth Group Begin this Sunday!

The Religious Education Council worked hard this summer to lay the groundwork for RE this year.  My thanks to Christine Haran and Laura Goodspeed (Co-Chairs), Laura Sehdeva, David Bowen, Janice Silverberg, and Joe Gonzalez! Teachers and youth group advisors have been meeting to review curricula and set schedules.  We are ready to begin a new year of RE this Sunday, September 15th and look forward to seeing you!

I ask all families with children and youth through 12th grade to please complete a RE registration form to help me get to know you.  I want to make sure I have current contact information as well as notes about allergies, dietary restrictions, neurodiversity and any other information that will help us serve your family.  Registration forms are on our website here, to print, complete, and return to my mailbox at CUUC.  Forms will also be available at parent-teacher meetings this Sunday. 

Rev. Kimberley Debus, our sabbatical minister, is offering to lead a RE class for adults and youth. Let her know which topics interest you by visiting a short survey here to read and rank your choices. Or you can post your preference on the board available in the sanctuary. (Please participate only once, online or on the board.)

NEW: To bridge the sanctuary and RE sides of the building, and to promote safety, CUUC will have a single point of entry.  Every Sunday, we will all enter through the main doors near the sanctuary.  The doors at the RE lobby will be locked.

 We are experimenting with a new schedule that has us starting in the worship service together every Sunday.  Some Sundays we will remain for the hour of Whole Congregation Worship.  Other Sundays, children, youth, and volunteers will leave during the first hymn for RE.

The 2019 fall RE calendar is on our website here.  I will post updates in this blog each week, along with information about what each class and group is doing.  On your way home from worship, RE classes, journey groups and committee meetings, I encourage you to share thoughts around these three questions:
1.     What did I learn about Unitarian Universalism?
2.     What did I learn about the way Unitarian Universalists think and see the world?
3.     What did I learn about the way we act and behave as Unitarian Universalists, as we are in relationship with each other?

This Sunday, September 15th, we all begin in the sanctuary.  During the first hymn, our children, youth, and volunteers will leave for classes and youth group.  Parents, we invite you to the classrooms at 11:30am to meet the adults who will spend this year with your child, and for an introduction to the curriculum and schedule. While parents are meeting with teachers, Diane is extending childcare, and older children and youth will play Social Justice Bingo in the Fellowship Hall.  We offer the following for children and youth Sunday mornings: 

  • Childcare, ABC UU Values: room 32 with Diane Keller and Hans Elsevier
  • PreK-1st Grade, A World of New Friends: room 33 with Laura Goodspeed, Laura Sehdeva and Donna Vought 
  • 2nd-3rd Grade, Passport to Spirituality: room 24 with Karen Leahy, Deb Margoluis, Norm Handelman, Cindy Kramer and Aaron Norris
  • 4th-5th Grade, Bibleodeon: room 21 with Janice Silverberg, Suzanne Cacchione, Christine Major, Alex Zisson and Ted Kuczinski
  • 6th-7th Grade, Neighboring Faiths: room 41 with Gail Johnston, Nicole Turygin, Muhammad Loutfy, Sophie Mitra, Chris Breault
  • 8th-9th Grade, Coming of Age: room 11 with Denice Tomlinson, Alex Sehdeva, and Kate Colson (additional COA mentors joining the team later this fall include Christine Haran, Tori Weisel, Erin Foster, Charles McNally and Barry Litcofsky)
  • 10th-12th Grade, Youth Group: room 14 with Cyndi Tillman, Dan Tillman, Jason Stoff and Imelda Cruz Aveelan.  This Sunday, I will also be with the youth group. 

Stay tuned for information about classes and groups meeting at other times.  And for information about the December to February K-1st Grade Our Whole Lives class with David Bowen, Janet Wafer-White and Joni Ehrlich.

I am grateful to the RE Council and all of these RE volunteers for launching the new year in Religious Exploration at CUUC.  I look forward to seeing you this Sunday!

in fellowship, Tracy


From the Minister, Fri Sep 6

Dear Ones,

How has your summer been, so far? What sort of “waters” represented your experiences of July and August? Were they:
  • still waters of rest and renewal?
  • shining waters of joy and happiness?
  • storm waters of grief and loss?
  • rushing waters of transition and change?
Like the sun needing a place to shine, and the world needing to be so warmed, we need one another. Like the wind needing a place to blow, and the earth needing to feel the air’s breath, we need one another. Like the rain needing a place to fall, and the land needing to be quenched by moisture, we need one another. Like the ocean needing a shoreline, and the coast needing to be touched by the rhythm of the water, we need one another.

We gather each week for this reason: to give and receive what we have and what we need.
We gather each week for this reason: to say to each other that like all that is living, we need one another. We give thanks for the blessings of this community of faith; we give thanks that once again we have come together.

Yours in faith,

The Liberal Pulpit

If you missed the Aug 18 service, here's the video:

And here's video of the Aug 25 service:

Find many other videos of past services at our Youtube Channel: HERE

Practice of the Week: Abandon Hope /While hopefulness is preferable to despair or apathy, there's a downside to hope. Hope turns easily to discouragement when the anticipated results don’t seem to arrive. In this sense, hope is limiting and unhelpful. It really is impossible to say for certain whether or not we have improved, so it is better not to frustrate ourselves with such useless questions. Instead, abandon hope and keep going with the training in the faith that it is worthwhile for its own sake. Neither look for improvement nor imagine there is no improvement. Neither celebrate improvement if you think you detect it nor suppose you are getting worse. READ MORE.
Your Moment of Zen: Mara the Founder /In Buddhism, Mara is the demon who appeared to Siddhartha Gautama after his awakening and tried to tempt him to keep his enlightenment entirely to himself. Mara is "the personification of the forces antagonistic to enlightenment" (Nyanaponika Thera). As Raven recognizes, the forces antagonistic to enlightenment -- and thus also antagonistic to practice -- are also necessary for practice/enlightenment.

Our guides on the great way include the passions and delusions, blowing smoke from their ears, as well as our calm insight.

Black Bear appeared one evening and said, "Tell me about Mara. I understand that he is the Great Destroyer."
Raven said, "The Great Founder."
Black Bear said, "That's what the Buddha Macaw is called."
Raven said, "Yes, but she never learned to blow smoke from her ears."
Psychotropic drugs
Utilize brain receptors
there for a reason.

Like that,
We are made to receive
our companions:
   ruby anger,
   ochre shame,
   blue-black fear,
   chartreuse envy,
   and all the rest.

Good medicine
In the right dose.
Case adapted from Robert Aitken; introduction and verse by Meredith Garmon
Zen at CUUC News

Abandon Hope

Practice of the Week
Abandon Hope

Category: Slogans to Live By: Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these maxims, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.

Adapted from Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion, "Abandon Hope."

Abandon hope? This slogan seems shocking. You probably have some hope that mind training will help you be wiser, kinder, and more connected to others. Doesn't hope lie at the center of the whole proposition of mind training?

While hopefulness is preferable to despair or apathy, there's a downside to hope. Hope turns easily to discouragement when the anticipated results don’t seem to arrive. In this sense, hope is limiting and unhelpful.

Our character does change over time, we all know that. What we want to know is: are we improving or getting worse? But how would you know? If you are a mixed-up, unhappy person who wants to improve, whatever vision of improvement you have is the projection of a confused and unhappy person. Such a seriously distorted vision might be inherently unattainable. Worse, it might sabotage you. Your hope for improvement would therefore be entirely counterproductive.

Yes, we often imagine future possibilities, but never accurately. My thought of what it is going to be like when I arrive in Mexico is never the same as what it is actually like when I arrive in Mexico, even though I have been to Mexico many times.

I've been doing Zen practice for a long time, so when people are considering taking up the practice, they are likely to ask me what I've gained from it. How has my life changed? I always say, yes of course I am much different now from who I was forty years ago. But then again, when forty years goes by, anyone is different, Zen practice or no. How can I tell how much the differences of forty years have to do with my Zen practice? Who knows whether the changes that have occurred in my life are the consequences simply of forty years of life on earth among others?

Have the various changes been an improvement? Well, yes. I think I am more stable, more ethical, more empathic; maybe I am a little wiser, calmer; maybe I have a better sense of what my life is about than I did before. But also, no: in forty years' time many things have gotten worse. Forty years ago, I was younger; I had more physical endurance, more strength, a better memory, I was smarter, I could meditate better; I had more buoyancy. Improvement? Hard to say.

It really is impossible to say for certain whether or not we have improved, so it is better not to frustrate ourselves with such useless questions. Instead, abandon hope and keep going with the training in the faith that it is worthwhile for its own sake. Neither look for improvement nor imagine there is no improvement. Neither celebrate improvement if you think you detect it nor suppose you are getting worse.

This faith isn't religious faith in the usual sense. It is faith we find through our own experience over the time of our training. Somehow, as we continue, we come to the definite feeling that this training is simply the right thing to do. We know it. We don't have to convince ourselves or anyone else. We don't need evidence. We simply feel the rightness of the training in the middle of our lives. We are quite happy to do our best to maintain a joyful mind as we go on practicing right now. That becomes enough.

It’s true that many people who do the practice see all kinds of wonderful improvements in their lives. I have noticed that the sense of big improvement comes mostly at the beginning, in the first years (or decades). As you keep on going, you hardly notice improvements anymore. Improvements may be there, and others might appreciate them, but you yourself simply stop noticing particularly. For you, practice disappears as a vehicle for self-improvement, and the only thing important for you now is to live your life, which means to continue your mind training. Shunryu Suzuki called this “practice without a gaining idea.”

So abandon hope. When you are excited about your progress or discouraged about your lack of progress, let go of that silly thought. Abandon hope and go happily on.

Adapted from Judith Lief, "Abandon Any Hope of Fruition."

Don’t be attached to success or to failure. This doesn’t mean abandoning your projects and ambitions. Just go about things with a present focus rather than a fixation on results.

When we do anything, we usually do it for a purpose. We have some aim in mind and we hope to accomplish that aim. We hope to succeed rather than fail. That is fine. But what then happens is that our thoughts of success or failure begin to overpower the task at hand. Clinging to hopes of fruition can make us tight and impatient – and the fear of failure (corollary of hoping for success) can make us timid and unwilling to take risks.

Conventional thinking about how to motivate people is based on hope and fear. We learn to expect some kind of reward or confirmation any time we succeed and to expect some form of punishment when we do not. Better to abandon that whole approach. That way, when you act, there are no hidden agendas or ulterior motives.

Even the practice of developing loving-kindness through slogan practice could be tainted by this desire to be recognized and confirmed. To prove to ourselves that our efforts have been successful, we may try to force a reaction of appreciation or gratitude on those we are supposedly selflessly helping. There is more room for real kindness and compassion if let go of, or at least loosen, our attachment to results.


How is it possible to maintain your focus, to “keep your eyes on the prize,” without getting fixated on results? As you go about your activities, pay attention to the difference between having a goal and being taken over by your hopes, fears, and speculations.

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Journey Group Sign-Up Time!

Journey Groups for 2019-20

Everybody sign up! Click HERE and select the Journey Group you'd like to be in.

Three Journey Groups are available on 3rd Sundays, after service (or after community meal, if there is one):
  • Room 43: Facilitated by Rev. Deb Morra
  • Room 31: Facilitated by Gary Freiberger
  • Room 22: Facilitated by Rhonda and Steve Miller
Other Journey Groups include:
  • 2nd Thursdays, 7:30pm, Parsonage, Facilitated by Debbie Manetta and Kevin McGahren-Clemens
  • 2nd Fridays, 11:00am, Parsonage, Facilitated by Rev. Meredith Garmon or Rev. Kimberly Debus
  • 3rd Thursdays, 7:30pm, Tarrytown, Facilitated by Mary Van Hoomissen
  • 3rd Fridays, 7:00pm, CUUC, room 24, Facilitated by Alex Sehdeva
  • 4th Thursdays, 10:00am, Scarsdale, Facilitated by Terri Kung
  • 3rd Sundays, 5:00pm, White Plains, Facilitated by Karen Leahy


Q: What's a Journey Group?
A: In a nutshell, these are groups of 5-15 people meeting monthly to explore the CUUC theme of the month, using the related issue of our magazine, "On the Journey." Find the current and all past issues HERE. For details on how our Journey Groups work, see HERE. To grasp the value and importance of Journey Groups, take a look HERE. For an explanation of Theme-Based ministry, of which our Journey Groups are a part, see HERE.

Q: I'm already in a group. Do I sign up again?
A: Yes, please. Every September, it's time to sign up again. Click HERE and select the group you're in, just to confirm for us that you're staying in the same group.

Q: Can I switch groups?
A: Sure. Just click HERE and select a different group.

Q: Is the September issue of "On the Journey" out?
A: Yes. It addresses the theme, "Covenant." The Sep "On the Journey" is HERE.

Q: What if my schedule won't allow me to attend very many of the monthly gatherings of any one group?
A: Please go ahead and register for that group which you expect to attend most often. If you have a variable monthly schedule, you may need to attend one group on some months, but another group on other months. That's perfectly OK! All groups allow for drop-ins -- just let the facilitator know that you're coming.

Q: Most months I probably won't attend any group at all.
A: Sorry to hear that! If you would, though, please register yourself for the group you're most likely to attend -- even if you'll only be going once or twice during the year.

Q: The group I was in last year isn't listed.
A: Please select another one.

Q: Is it too late to start a new journey group?
A: Nope. New groups should form before the end of September, though, for the 2019-20 year. Each group will need to have a facilitator. Contact Rev. Meredith Garmon if you're interested.

Q: What are the themes for 2019-20?
A: Here's the line-up:
Sep: Covenant
Oct: Awe
Nov: Compassion
Dec: Grace
Jan: Authority
Feb: God
Mar: Redemption
Apr: Eco-Spirituality
May: Joy
Jun: Vision


Music: Sun Sep 8

St. Francis of Paola had a problem: how to cross the Straits of Messina to Sicily without sufficient funds to pay the ferryman? According to the Catholic legend, after being refused passage, the saint prayed to God, and received the inspiration to spread his cloak upon the waters and ride the waves. In the tale, the boatman sees the miracle, repents of his stinginess, and begs the saint to come aboard. However, in order to teach that Faith commands Nature, St. Francis remains steadfast, and the winds propel him to his destination faster than the boat! The composer Franz Liszt owned a painting by Eduard von Steinle, which depicted the scene. In the second of his “Deux L├ęgendes,” performed as the morning’s Centering Music in celebration of our annual Ingathering Water Ceremony, Liszt recreates the Saint's adventure in vivid pianistic terms. Other repertoire connected to water imagery is featured in the Offertory as well as in the actual ritual. The CUUC Choir is also on hand with Amy Bernon’s “I Am the River” and Roger Emerson’s arrangement of the American folk song “Down to the River to Pray," both of which movingly describe the river as a source of universal connectedness and spiritual renewal. Read on for programming details

Centering Music: Adam Kent, piano
“St. Francis of Paola Walking on the Waves”
                                                Franz Liszt

Anthem: CUUC Choir directed by Lisa N. Meyer and accompanied this Sunday by Barbara Orwick, while Georgianna Pappas is away.
I Am the River   
Amy F. Bernon   

“La marchande d’eau fraiche” from Histoires (The Fresh Water Seller Woman)
                                                Jacques Ibert

Down to the River to Pray  
 American Folk Song, arr. by Roger Emerson 

Water Ingathering Ceremony

Still Waters: Venetian Boatsong No. 2, Op. 30, No. 6
                                                Felix Mendelssohn
Shining Waters: “By a Meadow Brook” from Woodland Sketches, Op. 51
                                                Edward MacDowell
Stormy Waters: “From the Depths” from Sea Pieces, Op. 55
                                                            Edward MacDowell
Rushing Waters: Little Brook, Op. 62, No. 4
                                                            Edvard Grieg



Religious Education: Sun Sep 8

Greetings CUUC

This is my first blog as your new Director of Lifespan Religious Education and Faith Development. I look forward to seeing you at Ingathering, September 8th! The Fall Communitarian is full of information about the coming year. Please take the time to read everything and check here each week for updates. In the weekly newsletter, I will post upcoming topics in Religious Exploration/Education (RE) classes.

On your way home from worship, RE classes, journey groups and committee meetings, I encourage you to share thoughts around these three questions:
  1. What did I learn about Unitarian Universalism?
  2. What did I learn about the way Unitarian Universalists think and see the world?
  3. What did I learn about the way we act and behave as Unitarian Universalists, as we are in relationship with each other?
Those are reflected in the ways we teach through all of the choices we make in community:
  1. Explicit Curriculum - structured class lessons and activities, journey groups, use of covenant to call each other in to right relationship (rather than calling each other out), showing up in solidarity and working toward justice; 
  2. Implicit Curriculum - the ways in which we interact with each other and create intentional community that reflect our values as we worship together, support each other in times of joy and sorrow, engage in difficult conversations, interweave the many ministries of the congregation, uphold safe congregation practices, and build a culture of inclusion; and
  3. Null Curriculum - the topics we do not discuss and voices we are not listening to. 
Everything we do in our faith community teaches. The congregation is the curriculum. In that sense, everyone is participating in the RE ministry.

You will hear me talk about religious exploration as well as education. Central to our Unitarian Universalist theology is the understanding that we are each on a journey of learning and discovery, and it matters that we share the journey in community, honoring our interconnection and uniqueness. It is important that we have space to explore our own beliefs and that we support each other on our journeys.

You will also hear me talk about ministry, which is grounded in my understanding that in faith community we minister to each other as we care for one another and work to live into the values of our faith inside the walls of CUUC, in our local community, and in the world. 

I look forward to the year ahead, to learning more about this community and collaborating as we work to live into the congregation's mission and vision.

in fellowship,


Tracy Breneman
Director of Lifespan Religious Education and Faith Development



Practice of the Week

Category: Ecospiritual. These practices are oriented toward developing our spirituality through our connection with our planet home and our responsibility to care for it.

We – as individuals and as a species — are tiny and insignificant, yet unique and precious. We participate in the grand story that is the universe: creation and dissolution, being and nothingness, life and death.

We die. We must. Without death, there would simply be no room for new life. Further, death and decay are integral to life itself. The leaves that fall in autumn provide nutrients for the green shoots that emerge in the spring. Predator devours prey. The dance of "I eat you, you eat me” goes on. Thousands of neurons in a newborn's brain die in order for others to form connections. Without these cell deaths, the child's development would be impaired. Even deaths that seem “unnatural” are part of the cycle. The fox finds the mother rabbit's burrow. The baby zebra ends up in the lion's mouth. The eggs grow cold from exposure and never hatch. The fawn cannot find enough to eat. In the not-so distant past, human children commonly died before age five. It may not be easy or pretty but it is inevitable. Death, like life, simply is.

Even on the grandest scale of all, death is integral. Every atom in your body had its beginnings inside a massive ancient star that exploded. On the early Earth, the evolution of new complex forms of life that ultimately led to the evolution of humanity necessitated the death or extinction of other forms. Life flows onward, creating and expanding anew -- and so does death. Death flows onward, cleansing, clearing, recycling, providing the raw materials for life processes. Death cannot exist without life, nor life without death. They are so intimately intertwined that they are really best considered as one process. This one life-and-death process is one of continual transformation. We—and everything else that exists—are always in the process of being, becoming, dissolving, evolving, transforming.

On the ocean of being, an individual life is one wave. We ripple over the ocean until we peter out or run aground, but we are never separated from the larger whole.


1. Transformation. Clear your altar, and collect items for two categories: alive and formerly alive. “Alive” might include a potted plant or a small fish tank. “Formerly alive” might include feathers, bones, dried leaves, or seashells. Arrange them to suit you, and leave them in place for a week or so. Spend some time daily at your altar considering the following:
How are your alive items in the process of transforming into something not alive?
How are your formerly alive items in the process of transforming into something alive?
On what sort of timescale might these transformations play out -- weeks, years, centuries?

2. Imagine Your Own Funeral. (Note: if you are depressed or have struggled with thoughts of suicide, consult a mental health professional before doing this exercise, or just skip it entirely.) Imagine what your funeral will be like. In your journal, explore how you wish it would be and how you would like to be remembered by family and friends. In your imagination, is it a quiet memorial or a rowdy wake? Is there any particular music playing or poems someone is reading? Who is there? If you wish, consider pre-planning services offered by many funeral homes. You can plan, pay for, and make choices for your own funeral. This would help ensure that your wishes are carried out, and also spare family members from having to make these decisions during their time of grief.

3. Life Cycle Project. This is an ongoing project that will take many months. Throughout this time, reflect on the process in your journal. Follow the life cycle of a plant from seed to seed. Choose an easy-to-grow flowering annual plant, such as a marigold or zinnia. Pick a variety that is relatively short and suitable for growing in a pot, in case you need to move it indoors for frost protection. Plant your seed in a pot. As you do so, mindfully consider the seed as a metaphor for the life/death/rebirth transformation cycle. Water it, tend it, place it in a sunny location, and watch it grow. When it flowers, don't "deadhead” it by removing the blooms to encourage more blooms. Instead, allow the plant to complete its natural life cycle. Monitor it as it goes to seed, and eventually dies. Allow it to completely transform by simply leaving it in its pot, and observe as the plant gradually becomes part of the soil itself, ready to grow the next generation. (Some of the seeds may sprout into that next generation, and you can observe all over again.)

Group Activities

Examining the Culture. Our contemporary culture denies death, and tries to postpone it as long as possible regardless of the quality of life. Share experiences related to how our culture handles serious illness, impending death, funeral rituals, and grief. Share openly and honestly, but respectfully, realizing that although we share a culture, our individual stories and experiences are unique.

Questions for Group Conversation:

  • Is there such a thing as a "good death"? If so, describe it.
  • How might reframing the concepts of life and death into the broader concept of transformation alter how we think about them?
  • How can a nature-based, deep-time perspective help us through the grieving process? Can it be blended into traditional religious beliefs? If so, how? If not, why?
  • Consider the entire life/death/transformation cycle from the perspective of a mountain, a town, a civilization/culture, a language, a bacterium, an insect, or any other entity. Be sure to place them in the larger context of the story of the universe.

* * *


Don't Judge

Practice of the Week
Don't Judge

Category: Slogans to Live By: Carry these reminders at all times. These practices don't require setting aside a separate substantial chunk of time -- but they will slow you down a bit (and that's a good thing.) Resolve to get stronger at living by these maxims, day by day. Sometimes make one of them the focus of your daily journaling.

Adapted from Judith Lief, "Don't Talk About Injured Limbs," and
"Don't Ponder Others;" and Norman Fischer, Training in Compassion,
"Don't Talk About Faults," and "Don't Figure Others Out."

Most of us avoid talking about someone's obvious physical limitations: being wheel-chair bound, on crutches, or missing an arm, say. What about the metaphorical "injured limbs" -- others' limitations of cognitive, emotional, or psychological functioning?

Judith Lief: Don't talk about injured limbs.
Rather than dwelling on what is wrong with people, which only exaggerates and perpetuates their weaknesses, remember that they are doing the best they can. Accept them as they are.

This slogan does not imply that you should not notice the problems or deformities people have, or that you should pretend everything is okay. The point is to examine how you react to such things.

Judging people distances ourselves from them. It’s a subtle rejection of them. Yet we tend to dwell on faults because we are both fascinated and repulsed by other people’s faults, weaknesses, abnormalities.

Combine awareness with acceptance. Take people as they are, no matter what condition they are in. When you see people in this straightforward way, you are not embarrassed by their ugliness, weakness, or infirmity. Instead, you simply meet them where they are.
Norman Fischer: Don't talk about faults.
Suppose for one week you didn’t, under any circumstances, discuss the faults of others. You would probably discover with some shock how much of what you say (and hear) involves in one way or another discussing the faults of others.

Although we all indulge this sort of seemingly innocent judgmentalism, it also makes us nervous. What are the others saying about us when we are not around? Someone who refrained from any complaint about any other person and was consistently supportive and forgiving, would stand out. People would be unusually drawn to such a person.

When someone is being nasty, obnoxious, corrupt, cruel, stupid, or incompetent, speaking of that person's faults in a harsh or critical way doesn't help. It generally makes a bad situation worse. Such criticism makes the person upset, feel attacked, which inspires zir to continue in the same vein.

Everyone who acts or speaks destructively, foolishly, or incompetently is like a person with an injured limb. We don't criticize someone for having an obvious physical injury. Likewise, let us not be critical of the person with an inner injury that is the ultimate cause of zir poor conduct. We can recognize the injury and the limitations that it engenders and respect the person.

Speaking with kindness and warmth to and about a person who has been conditioned by almost all of zir relationships to expect the opposite may cause surprising transformation. Maybe you can’t imagine what the injury would be. But remember: whether you can imagine it or not, there's an injury behind every fault. So condition yourself, little by little, to speak differently. If you need to correct someone, speak with sympathy. Such people need to figure out how to heal their wounds someday, and harsh words will not inspire them, you, or other listeners.
Accept that there is an injury behind every fault. Don't even try to figure out what it is!

Judith Lief: Don't ponder others.
It is easy, entertaining, and totally distracting to muse about what is wrong with everybody else. The habit of faultfinding is part of a larger pattern of insecurity in which we always feel the need to compare ourselves to other people. It is as though we need to convince ourselves that we are okay, which we can only do indirectly, in comparison to people who are less okay.

Strangely, when you are not afraid to uncover your own limitations, and you are not constantly comparing yourself to others, it is a great relief. You no longer have to convince yourself of anything and you have nothing to hide. And when you look at other people, you are not doing so with the ulterior motive of using what you see to prop up your own feeling of superiority and virtue.
Norman Fischer: Don't figure others out.
Think of all the time you spend analyzing and discussing acquaintances, as if you could know what was going on with them, as if you had a real line on them and their problems. Who could ever understand another person? We don’t understand ourselves! There is so much going on in our mind -- all sorts of contradictory and underappreciated phenomena – so how could we possibly fathom what makes another person tick?

Jack Himmelstein (Center for Understanding in Conflict), notes:
"We judge ourselves by our intentions; we judge others by the effects of their actions on us."
This is one reason we so often come out on the righteous side of our conflicts: we think we know our own inmost intentions (and we are often wrong); we assume the intentions of others based on our understanding of their outward acts (and we are usually wrong).

Instead, when you find yourself thinking about someone else's motives, needs, or feelings, catch yourself and remember that you don't really know what someone else is thinking or feeling, so you are better off assuming ze is doing zir best and that everyone is on the same human journey you are on. Maybe at the moment zir journey is leading zir down some nasty dark alley ways. Practicing this slogan, repeating it to ourselves frequently, even in the midst of controversy with others, trains the mind to recall that we know little of what is in our own heart, let alone someone else’s.

Yes, there are times when it may be a good idea to try to imagine what someone else is feeling, thinking, needing, or wanting. Doing that in the light of this slogan means doing it with humility, knowing that we may be mistaken.

As you go about your day, with the people you encounter, pay attention to what comes up in your mind. Pay particular attention to the qualities of comparison mind and faultfinding mind. What is the difference between simply seeing a flaw and dwelling on it or using it to prop yourself up?

* * *